Jacob leaned his forehead against the cool glass as he peered through the display window. Tomorrow was Anna’s birthday and his pocket held exactly seven dollars and thirty-four cents. Realizing there was no point wasting his time at Waldmann’s Jeweler’s, he wiped the smeared glass with his sleeve and turned to walk away.
“See something that interests you?” The grinning proprietor popped his balding head out the front door.
Jacob jumped a little, and then shook his head. “Oh…no, thanks. Just daydreaming.”
“Ah, I know that look. Something in my window has caught your eye. Which piece? Tell me.” Mr. Waldmann stepped outside to stand beside Jacob.
Pointing to a silver, dove-shaped pin in the back of the case, Jacob shuffled his feet and said, “My wife has admired that for ages.”
“Good eye, your wife. That’s an estate piece. A real bargain for two hundred dollars.” Mr. Waldmann’s grin exposed flawless false teeth.
“Don’t suppose you’d take seven,” groaned Jacob.
“So, it’s like that, is it?” Mr. Waldmann’s expression didn’t falter. “Tell me, you and your wife, how long together?”
Jacob couldn’t help but smile. “Almost eight years. She’s an extraordinary woman.”
“And for this extraordinary woman you offer less than one dollar a year?” Mr. Waldmann shook his head, but he smiled warmly and motioned to Jacob. “Come. Inside. We will find a way to make your extraordinary wife a very happy lady.”
With nowhere else to go, Jacob shrugged and followed Mr. Waldmann into the shop. The old varnished floor creaked with every footstep and, although the ambient lighting was dim, each individual display case was brightly lit, creating a silent symphony of shimmer and shine. Glancing around at the jewelry and fine porcelain, Jacob was sure of one thing. There wasn’t a single item he could afford. No doubt about it.
Mr. Waldmann spirited the pin from its resting place and brought it over to the counter. “Look how it sparkles under the lamplight. The carvings look just like diamonds, don’t you think?”
“It’s beautiful. But, Mr. Waldmann,” Jacob tilted his head and met the old man’s gaze. “I have seven dollars.”
“You also have the pain in your eyes of a man who has been dealt a few bad hands in this life,” Mr. Waldmann said as he laid the pin on a velvet pad. “What is your business?”
“I’m a carpenter. But, with the economy as it’s been, there just hasn’t been much work lately. Anna, that’s my wife, she even had to go back to waiting tables.” Jacob’s jaw clenched as he spoke.
“Times are hard to be sure. My business is certainly not what it used to be. You see this counter?” Mr. Waldmann ran his crooked fingers along the wood trim. “See how it has splintered along the side? I cannot even afford this simple repair.”
Jacob’s expert hand stroked the wood. It was a beautiful, smooth mahogany. A simple repair, indeed. He looked at Mr. Waldmann and decided he liked this man. “Sir, I’ve nothing else going on right now. If you want, I could have this fixed in a couple of hours.”
“Yes? And how much to fix my wounded cabinet?” asked the old man.
Not wanting to create a hardship for the shop owner, Jacob did a quick mental calculation and said, “If you could see your way to pay twenty dollars, that would help me a lot.”
“Well!” Mr. Waldmann clapped his hands together. “What smart businessman could turn down such a fair offer?”
“My tools are in the truck, so I can do it right now. That will give me time to go to the boutique next door and maybe find a little something for my wife’s birthday.” Jacob glanced back at the counter, his shadowed eyes reflecting the light as it glinted off the silver pin.
“Excellent!” said Mr. Waldmann, seemingly ignoring Jacob’s pained expression. “As you can see, there are no customers to have to work around. I will just stay out of your way.” The old man walked over to his desk, sat down, and said no more.
As Jacob applied the last bit of varnish to the cabinet, Mr. Waldmann leaned on the opposite end. “Looks good. You got a real gift there.”
“Thanks,” Jacob said as he wiped his brow. “Everything I know about woodworking, I learned from my dad. He taught me there’s nothing better than the feeling of raw timber taking shape under your bare hands. Well, almost nothing…” Jacob’s voice trailed off as he fingered his wedding band.
“Like the light in your wife’s eyes when you come through the door at the close of the day, yes?” Mr. Waldmann said as he came around to Jacob’s end of the counter.
Jacob sighed. “Yes. That’s really the best feeling I’ve ever known.”
Mr. Waldmann laid a hand on Jacob’s shoulder. “I know something of that fine feeling myself. My Clara, she made my heart sing. May she rest in peace.”
Jacob’s eyes followed Mr. Waldmann’s gaze to a picture behind the counter. “Is that her?”
“Yes. My beautiful Clara. Our life together was a good one. Even during the leanest of times, all we needed to be happy was each other. I miss her.” A solitary tear stole down Mr. Waldmann’s cheek, but his smile remained. “Lucky for me, I am an old man. Soon I will be joining her and nothing will ever separate us again.”
Jacob smiled at Mr. Waldmann. “Thank you, sir.”
“Ah, for what are you thanking me?”
“You reminded me how lucky I am to have a wife who’s content to share a simple life with me. I can always buy her a nicer present once business picks up. It won’t be that beautiful pin, but I’ll come up with something. For now, I’ll make do with a little gift from next door.”
As Jacob gathered up his tools, Mr. Waldmann pressed a wrinkled twenty-dollar bill into his hand. “You did a fine job here. I will be sure to tell my customers about the wonderful carpenter who repaired my cabinet. Maybe some more work will come your way.”
“I appreciate that, Mr. Waldmann. I’ve got to say, I feel a lot more hopeful now than I did a few hours ago.”
The two men walked to the door and shook hands before Jacob stepped out into the early evening air. Mr. Waldmann watched him enter the neighboring boutique, then hurried back to his desk. He dialed the phone and, after a few seconds said, “Elena? Otto Waldmann. I need a favor.”
Jacob walked over to a display of accessories and began sifting through an assortment of delicate scarves.
“Sir, I have to step out for just a moment, but Lily here will assist you.” The boutique owner gently nudged the frail teen towards Jacob. “I won’t be long.”
Blushing, the girl took a hesitant step forward. “Um, uh…is there something special you want to see?” Clearly nervous, she cleared her throat and said, “It’s my first day, so I don’t know where everything is, but I’ll do my best.”
“Well, Lily…it is Lily, right?”
“Uh, yeah, it is,” she said, turning a deeper crimson.
“These scarves are really nice. I just can’t decide which one my wife would like best. What do you think?” Jacob held up two lengths of filmy fabric. One was pastel blue with faint swirls of white and silver threads running through it. The other was a deep shade of plum with gold diagonal stripes.
Lily shyly pointed to the blue scarf. “That one makes me think of a clear summer sky. The purple one is just so dark.” She noticed the owner returning from the back room and hastened to add, “But they’re both very pretty.”
Jacob laughed. He felt lighter than he had in a long time. “I agree with you, Lily. The blue is perfect. It’ll be a nice compliment to my wife’s beautiful blue eyes. How much is it?”
Lily looked behind the display of scarves and said, “These are all priced at $30.”
Jacob’s face fell, but before he could say anything, the owner said, “Oh, Lily, I forgot to mark down that blue one. It’s half-price.”
“I’ll take it!” Jacob didn’t even bother hiding his relief.
Lily led the way to the cash register, and the owner stepped forward. “I’ll take this in the back and wrap it while Lily rings up your purchase. Am I correct in assuming this is a gift?”
Jacob nodded. “Yes, tomorrow’s my wife’s birthday.”
“You’ve made a fine choice. Your wife will be very pleased.” She disappeared into the back room, and Lily began ringing up the sale.
“Will that be cash or charge?”
“Cash.” Jacob handed over the worn bill that Mr. Waldmann had given him.
The boutique owner soon returned holding a tidy package with a silk ribbon tied around it. She handed it to Jacob as he dropped his change into his pocket. “Thank you,” he said. “That looks really pretty. My wife will like the wrapping almost as much as what’s inside.”
The owner smiled and nodded toward the package. “That’s very nice of you to say, but I have a feeling your wife will be overjoyed with what’s inside.”
Anna woke to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. She yawned, stretched her arms out in front of her and turned to see that Jacob’s side of the bed was empty. She grabbed her robe and pulled it around her as she padded barefoot into the tiny kitchen.
“Happy birthday, Your Highness.” Jacob gave an exaggerated bow and pulled a chair away from the table. “Please be seated, and I will serve your first course.”
Anna laughed. “My, aren’t we formal today? And…first course? There’s hardly anything in the cupboard. This can’t possibly be more than a bowl of oatmeal.”
“You are mistaken, my lady,” Jacob said as he placed a cup of coffee and a bowl of fresh fruit in front of her.
“What a surprise! This looks wonderful, but where’s yours?”
“I already ate,” he said and sat down across from her. “You need to eat up, though. I have a surprise for you, but you don’t get it until after breakfast.”
Anna simply shook her head and smiled. After a meal of fruit, scrambled eggs and pancakes, she leaned back in her chair and sighed. “I don’t remember the last time I felt this royal. Thank you, Jacob. This was so nice.”
“Oh, it’s not over yet,” he said as he reached under the table and brought up the wrapped gift. “Happy birthday, honey.”
Unable to hide her astonishment, Anna said, “Jacob! You shouldn’t have bought me anything. This breakfast was more than enough.”
Putting his finger to her lips, Jacob said, “Just hush and open it. It’s not a lot, but I do think you’ll like it.”
Anna’s fingers trembled as they traveled lightly over the package. She untied the ribbon, then carefully unfolded the paper and laid it aside. Lifting the lid from the box, she pulled off the tissue and gasped. “Oh, no! What have you done?” Tears filling her eyes, she pleadingly looked up at Jacob. “You have to return this. It’s too much. It’s beautiful and, oh, I do love it…but it’s just too much.” Gazing back down at her gift, she began to cry softly.
Shocked by her reaction, Jacob rushed over and put his arm around her shaking shoulders. “Anna, honey, it’s just a scarf. It really wasn’t all that expensive, and I earned some unexpected money yesterday from…”
He stopped short and stared into the box. The lovely blue scarf was folded neatly within and, nestled on top, was the pin. The two-hundred-dollar silver dove pin. Sunlight streamed in through the window and bathed the pin’s etchings, making them sparkle…just like diamonds.
“Jacob, I know you want me to be happy, but we just can’t afford this. Please, you have to get your money back.” Anna’s tear-streaked face was ashen as Jacob shook his head.
“I can’t get my money back,” he said, not taking his eyes off the pin. “I didn’t buy it. I don’t have any idea how it got there.”
“Stop teasing me,” she said, offering a weak smile. “You’ve really got to take it back.”
“Anna, I swear to you, I did not buy that pin. I wanted to. You have no idea how much. No one deserves this more than you, but I couldn’t buy it. I just didn’t have the money.” Running a hand through his hair, Jacob fought his own tears as he struggled to understand how this happened. It was obviously a mistake, and he had no choice but to take the pin back to Waldmann’s shop. But seeing it here, in his precious wife’s hands, made it so hard. She did deserve it. And if he weren’t such a poor provider, it would be hers.
Before he could say anything else, there was a knock on the door. Anna wiped her cheek and asked, “Are you expecting someone?”
“No, nobody.” Jacob straightened up and started toward the hall. “I’ll be right back.”
When he returned a few moments later, his face was pale, and his hand shook as he handed a note to his wife. She ran her eyes over the scrawled handwriting.
“My Dear Carpenter Friend, Jacob.
I am hoping this will reach you after you have presented your lovely wife with her birthday gift. I did not tell you this, but I have seen her many times, gazing into my shop window. I always knew which piece it was that drew her eye. I have had several opportunities to sell it, but could never bring myself to do so. You see, before my joints betrayed me, I was a silversmith, and that beautiful pin was a gift I crafted for my beloved Clara. I gave it to her on our first anniversary, and she wore it proudly every day for over fifty years. Before she died, she made me promise to give it to someone worthy. Someone who would wear it with the same love that she did. Someone who could look beyond its outward beauty and see the devotion with which it was created.
I never found that someone…until yesterday. You, my friend, are myself as a young man. Struggling every day to do the very best for the one person who makes your heart sing. Your eyes spoke to me of hardships that I, too, have known. While you were here, my sweet Clara whispered to me, ‘This is the one.’ And I never second-guess my Clara.
I ask but one thing. That your wonderful wife wear this pin often. It needs the sunlight to show its beauty. And, perhaps from time to time, you will take a moment to remember an old man’s love for his own special angel.
May your days and years be filled with the magic of each other’s devotion.
P.S. Some old friends visited me last evening and noticed your handiwork. They were quite impressed and will be in touch with you soon. They are in need of a fine carpenter such as yourself. I wish you much luck.”
Anna let the letter drift down to the table as she picked up the silver pin. Walking over to Jacob, she said, “I don’t understand. What handiwork is he talking about?”
“Nothing much. I just did a simple repair to his display counter. But, Anna, something special happened while I was there. I don’t know how to explain it, other than to say he opened my eyes to the riches in my own life. He reminded me that the only thing of any real importance is our love for each other.” Jacob glanced over at the letter. “If we can be as happy together for as many years as Mr. Waldmann and his Clara were, then we’ll know we’ve been truly blessed.”
Jacob took the pin from Anna and gently placed it on the lapel of her robe. Drawing her close, he kissed her hair and whispered, “I love you, Anna, and he put it better than I ever could. You really do make my heart sing.”